The New York Times is using an algorithm to find randomly select 17-syllable bits from daily articles are posting them as haikus.
This is a Tumblr blog of haikus found within The New York Times. Most of us first encountered haikus in a grade school, when we were taught that they are three-line poems with five syllables on the first line, seven on the second and five on the third. According to the Haiku Society of America, that is not an ironclad rule. A proper haiku should also contain a word that indicates the season, or “kigo,” as well as a juxtaposition of verbal imagery, known as “kireji.” That’s a lot harder to teach an algorithm, though, so we just count syllables like most amateur haiku aficionados do.
Some of them are better than others (they acknowledge this). But there are ones that are just lovely.
I am well aware how poets can painstakingly choose just the right word for their pieces so the idea that a computer program is picking sentences at random maybe be unnerving for some. I think the Dadaists would certainly appreciate the chaos of this method, though. And it is reassuring that such serendipity can be found in something as quotidian as our daily news. Any time that something like poetry can be shaken from grips of the idea of ‘high art’ that is only accessible for the cultural elite, I am glad. Although, some might argue that the New York Times can be pretty elitist.
Many of us work with haiku with text students before we move into more complex pieces like sonnets. In addition to having students write their own, using these are nice because they touch upon our current cultural context and students can connect with them while still working on image, breath, and thought within a given structure.
If you’d like to read more about the project, you can visit the about page. And no, they don’t scan articles with sensitive material, so you won’t find haikus about severed limbs and date rape.